Measuring distance to the SDG targets – Costa Rica

Costa Rica has already achieved 17 of the 112 SDG targets for which comparable data are available and, based on most recent trends, it is expected to meet 7 additional targets by 2030 (Figure 1). As virtually all OECD countries, Costa Rica has already met (or is close to meeting) most targets related to securing basic needs and implementing the policy tools and frameworks mentioned in the 2030 Agenda (see details in Table 1). Costa Rica’s social and economic progress, centred on foreign trade, well-being and a sustainable use of natural resources, has been remarkable. Yet, challenges remain. For instance, education outcomes remains weak and inequalities are stubbornly high.

This country profile provides a high-level overview of Costa Rica’s strengths and challenges in performance across the SDG targets. As such, it differs in nature from Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) or other reporting processes. To ensure international comparability, this assessment builds on the global indicator framework and relies on data sourced from the SDG Global Database and OECD databases. VNRs typically use national indicators that reflect national circumstances and are more up-to-date (See section How to read this country profile that provides some methodological details on country profiles).

Costa Rica is among the fastest growing OECD economies. On average, over the past 15 years, GDP per capita increased by more than 2% (Target 8.1) while labour productivity increased by more than 4% a year. Foreign trade and foreign direct investment are an integral part of Costa Rica’s successful growth model. For instance, the proportion of tariff lines applied to imports from least developed countries with zero-tariff is among the highest of the OECD area (Target 10.a). Yet, as a small open economy, Costa Rica is highly exposed to the global economic shocks.

Some risk factors to health are low in Costa Rica. Costa Rica has a lower mortality rate attributed to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory disease than in many OECD countries (Target 3.4) but the incidence of AIDS is among the highest of the OECD area (Target 3.3). Tobacco consumption is only a quarter of the OECD average (Target 3.a) and alcohol consumption is only a third (Target 3.5). Yet, available data suggest that obesity is one of the highest of the OECD area (Target 2.2) while food insecurity (Target 2.1) remains an issue for 15% of the population. In addition, poor air quality (Target 11.6) and road traffic injuries (Target 3.6) weigh heavily on health outcomes.

Costa Rica was one of the first countries to commit to achieving zero net emissions of CO2 by 2050. In Costa Rica, 99% of the country's total electricity generation and more than a third of the total final energy consumption comes from renewable sources of energy, well above the OECD average (Target 7.2). Costa Rica also displays high-energy efficiency (Target 7.3) and has one of the lowest intensity of GHG emission per unit of GDP (Target 13.2) and CO2 emissions from fuel combustion per unit of GDP (Target 9.4).

Beyond greenhouse gas emissions, Costa Rica had limited many pressures on its environment. Costa Rica has a long tradition of environmental laws and policies; it is already meeting most of its commitments and reporting obligations on hazardous waste (Target 12.4) and it established national targets in accordance with different Aichi Biodiversity Targets (Targets 15.8 and 15.9). In addition, relatively to the OECD average, the impact of the agriculture sector is less important (Target 2.4) and marine nutrient pollution is only a third of the OECD average (Target 14.1). On cities (Goal 11), land consumption grew at a lower pace than population (Target 11.3) and it scores high on policy indicators regarding urban policies (Target 11.a). On biodiversity, the picture is more nuanced. Costa Rica is one of the most diverse country in the world in terms of biodiversity but protected areas cover less than half of the marine, terrestrial, freshwater and mountain areas that are considered to be key for biodiversity (Targets 14.5, 15.1 and 15.4), only 3% of its total marine areas, and around 30% of its land. As in most OECD countries, the conservation status of major species is declining (Target 15.5).

Education outcomes are low. While Costa Rica has met Target 4.2 on pre-primary education, students' education outcomes at the end of secondary schooling remain poor. In 2018, only 40% of 15-year-olds achieved minimum proficiency in mathematics and around 60% in reading (Target 4.1). Completion rates remains well below the OECD average at all levels, and differences in socio-economic background, gender, immigration status and location account for a large share of these disparities in education outcomes (Target 4.5). Finally, some schools still lack some basic facilities such as single-sex sanitations, handwashing facilities or access to computers and the internet for pedagogical purposes (Target 4.a).

There is much scope for progress on water and waste services. In 2020, one-fifth of the population lacked access to safely managed drinking water services (Target 6.1), while only 30% had access to safely managed sanitation services (Target 6.2). Costa Rica also lags far behind the OECD average when it comes to the treatment of municipal waste (Targets 11.6 and 12.5): the municipal solid waste collection coverage is only 73%, 20 percentage points below the OECD average with almost 93% waste being disposed of in landfill or incinerated. Wastewater treatment also needs to be improved, as almost 80% of domestic wastewater flows are not subjected to safe treatment (Target 6.3).

Costa Rica reports one the highest levels of income poverty and inequality of the OECD area (Targets 1.2 and 10.2). These reflect many challenges in the labour market: the unemployment rate is almost three times the OECD average, hourly earnings of employees are only half the average (Target 8.5), and one in five youths is not in employment, education nor training (Target 8.6). On the other hand, redistribution through taxes and transfers remains weak (Target 10.4) and there are many gaps in the social protection system: according to data from the ILO, only a third of “vulnerable population” receive social assistance cash benefit while around half of the population above statutory pensionable age receive a pension (Target 1.3). Beyond income, the situation is more nuanced. On the one hand, youths and women are relatively well represented in the parliament (Targets 5.5 and 16.7) and women occupy more than 40% of managerial positions (Target 5.5). Still, the legal framework to promote, enforce and monitor gender equality is not comprehensive (Targets 5.1 and 5.2), women still bear most of domestic chores and care work (Target 5.4) and 7% of ever-partnered women and girls report having been subject to physical and/or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner in the previous 12 months.

Costa Rica is still away from some targets in the Peace category. Deaths from homicides are about four times higher than the OECD average, and nearly half of the population report not feeling safe when walking alone at night in the area where they live (Target 16.1). On rule of law (Target 16.3), only one in three robberies appears to be reported to the police, one in five detainees are unsentenced and unofficial data from the World Justice Project suggest that there is wide scope for improving civil justice. Perception-based measures highlight that half of the citizens report not having confidence in the judicial system (Target 16.6).

Like in many other OECD countries, data availability remains a challenge when measuring distances to targets (see the Overview chapter for details). For Costa Rica, available data on the level of the different indicators allow covering 112 of the 169 targets. As shown in Figure 2 below, indicator coverage is uneven across the 17 goals. While only three goals (i.e. Goals 1 on poverty, 3 on health and 10 on reduced inequalities) have most of their targets covered (the indicator coverage exceeds 80%), coverage is much lower for four goals (Goals 4 education, 11 on cities, 13 on climate action and 17 on partnerships) with only half or fewer of their targets covered. Data gaps become starker when focusing on performance indicators, excluding those providing contextual information. In this case, coverage exceeds 80% for only Goal 3 on health. Moreover, for eight goals, mostly within the Planet category (Goals 12, 13, 14 and 15) but also on education (Goal 4), gender equality (Goal 5), cities (Goal 11) and partnerships (Goal 17), data are lacking to monitor progress over time for more than two in three targets.

While some SDG Targets are, on average, close to being met, performance is very uneven across the 17 Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Table 1 presents an overview of Costa Rica’s progress towards targets based on available data for each of the 17 Goals. It shows that distances to Targets and trends over time differ significantly even when considering a specific goal.

The OECD report The Short and Winding Road to 2030: Measuring Distance to the SDG Targets evaluates the distance that OECD countries need to travel to meet SDG targets for which data are currently available. It also looks at whether countries have been moving towards or away from these targets, and how likely they are to meet their commitments by 2030, based on an analysis of recent trends and the observed volatility in the different indicators.

As most authors and international organisations, this report adopts a rather simple geometric growth model for assessing the direction and pace of recent changes in the context of the SDGs. Yet, instead of making direct estimates of the value of the indicator by 2030, it models the likelihood of achieving a specific level using Monte Carlo simulations.

While the report provides an overview of where OECD countries, taken as a whole, currently stand, country profiles provide details of the performance and data availability of individual OECD countries.

Progress on SDGs requires a granular understanding of countries’ strengths and weaknesses based on the consideration of the 169 targets of the 2030 Agenda. Figure 1 shows both current achievements (in the inner circle; the longer the bar, the smaller the distance remaining to be travelled) as well as whether OECD countries are on track (or are at least making progress) to meet their commitments by 2030 (in the outer circle).

The length of each bar shows current level of achievement on each target. As detailed in the Methodological Annex, countries’ distance to target is measured as the “standardised difference” between a country’s current position and the target end-value. For each indicator, the standardised measurement unit (s.u.) is the standard deviation observed among OECD countries in the reference year (i.e. the year closest to 2015). Therefore, the longer the bar, the shorter the distance still to be travelled to reach the target by 2030. The colours of the bars applied to the various targets refer to the goals they pertain to.

The outer ring shows how OECD countries are performing over time and how likely they are to meet the different targets by 2030 based on the observed trends of the various indicators. It uses stoplight colours to classify the progress towards the target:

  • green is used to indicate those countries that (based on the change in the different indicators over a recent period) should meet the target in 2030 just by maintaining their current pace of progress (i.e. more than 75% of (randomised) projections meet the target);

  • yellow for those countries whose current pace of progress is insufficient to meet the target by 2030 (i.e. less than 75% of randomised projections meet the target, while the correlation coefficient between the indicator and the year is high and statistically significant, implying that a significant trend could be detected); and

  • red for those countries whose recent changes have been stagnating or moving them further away from the target (i.e. less than 75% of randomised projections meet the target and the correlation coefficient between the indicator and the year is low or statistically insignificant, implying that no statistical trend could be identified).

With the aim of helping its member countries in navigating the 2030 Agenda and in setting their own priorities for action, this report relies on a unique methodology for measuring the distance that OECD countries have to travel to achieve SDG targets. The identification of the main strengths and challenges proposed in this report relies on current performances only:

  • A target is considered to be a strength when the distance to the target end-value is lower than 0.5 s.u. (i.e. the distance is deemed to be small) or when the country is closer to the target than the OECD average. For instance, while Korea's distance to Target 2.2 on malnutrition is 1.4 s.u. (i.e. classified as medium distance), the average OECD distance is 2.5 s.u. Therefore, Target 2.2 is categorised as being a strength for Korea.

  • A target is considered to be a challenge when the distance to target is greater than 1.5 s.u. (i.e. distance is deemed to be long) or when the country is further away from the target than the OECD average. For instance, Estonia's distance to Target 4.2 on pre-primary education is 1.1 s.u. (i.e. medium distance), which is higher than the 0.24 s.u. distance for the OECD average. Target 4.2 is therefore classified as a weakness for Estonia.

While the lack of consistent time series often prevents an exhaustive assessment of trends, they are discussed when available and relevant in nuancing the assessment of current performance.

In total, this report relies on 537 data series supporting 183 of the 247 indicators listed in the global indicator framework (or for close proxies of these indicators). These indicators cover 134 of the 169 SDG targets. Yet, target coverage is uneven across the 17 goals and among OECD member countries.

Figure 2 summarises data availability:

  • darker blue bars indicate the share of targets for which at least one indicator (including indicators providing context information) is available

  • lighter blue bars indicate the share of targets for which the available indicator(s) include those having a clear normative direction (i.e. allowing to distinguish between good and bad performance), which are the only ones used to measure distances to target levels.

  • medium blue bars indicate the share of targets for which progress over time can be gauged (i.e. at least three observations are available over a five-year period).

All methods and concepts are further detailed in the Methodological Annex.

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